Before there was Montel Williams there was Ellis Haizlip. He was a gay Black TV host in the 60s. Haizlip’s niece Melissa Haizlip produced a docudrama called Soul! about her uncle’s quest towards a platform developed by and for Black individuals. Moreover, Haizlip was the first black host to showcase black music, activism, politics and more on his show Sou!. He was the first Black producer at WNET/WNDT production company.
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Now playing in our virtual cinema (click the link in bio to rent): MR. SOUL! and JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT. From 1968 to 1973, the public-television variety show SOUL!, produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip, offered an unfiltered, uncompromising celebration of Black literature, poetry, music, and politics. The series was among the first to provide expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. With participants’ recollections and a bevy of great archival clips, Mr. SOUL! captures a critical moment in culture whose impact continues to resonate. If it hadn’t been for a bottle of scotch and a late-night visit from musician Gregg Allman, Jimmy Carter might never have been elected the 39th President of the United States. JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT charts the mostly forgotten story of how Carter, a lover of all types of music, forged a tight bond with musicians Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and others. #MrSoultheMovie #MrSoul #EllisHaizlip #blackfilm #indiefilm #musicdocumentary #JimmyCarter #JimmyCarterRockAndRollPresident #JimmyCarterMovie #uspresident #americanhistory #documentary #politicaldocumentary #tribecafilmfestival #documentaryfilm #womeninfilm #tivolikc #womenfilmmakers #kcmo #kansascity #nelsonatkins #nelsonatkinsmuseum #virtualcinema
How Ellis Haizlip Started Soul!
While working at WNET as a producer Haizlip was approached by Christopher Lukas, a WNET white director of cultural programming, to create an arts program for a Black audience. Haizlip took on the opportunity, and conceptualized a variety of programs to commemorate the diversity of Black music, culture, and civil rights issues.
Soul! was on air for 5 years from 1968 to 1973. It became a household name in Black homes by celebrating Black culture. The show had a variety of Black musicians, activists, and political luminaries like Sidney Poitier, Muhammad Ali, Cicely Tyson, Poet Mae Jackson, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and even Stokely Carmichael.
Haizlip Was A Gay Man
Birthed in Washington, D.C., in 1929, Haizlip was an out gay man in an age preceding Stonewall. He never hid his sexuality, and the network tolerated his queerness. However, they fretted about a gay male not being an ideal personification of Black masculinity on-camera. Yet that definitely didn’t stop his show from being a hit in Black houses.
Soul! had a majority all Black innovative team—from the cameraman, established developers, and also the producers. Among them was Alice Hille, among the initial Black women to be an associate producer on a nationwide Television collection. The audience was also of majority Black individuals.
Unfortunately, by 1973 the show became a threat and the program ran out of financing regardless of a solid viewership after PBS picked it up for national syndication. Toward the end of its run, Haizlip was under severe pressure to incorporate the show for white audiences. The show showcased Black Power, which they saw as a threat.
The last episode of Soul! broadcasted on March 7, 1973. Haizlip made no secret why. He told the Washington newspaper as the termination was because of a policy to ruin all Black programming on the network. He also made references that The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was a sociological manufacturing network rather than a cultural one.
Haizlip got lung cancer in the 1980s, then a brain tumor quickly after. He passed away in 1991 at 61. Check out more information on the docudrama at MrSoulMovie.com.